Skewed take on domestic helpers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 3:09am

I am a regular Alex Lo reader and usually admire his take on political issues.

However, in his column ("Court's ruling enforces semi-apartheid", March 26) he is hopelessly confused. His premise is that no society may treat any segment of its population less favourably than the rest. So far so good.

But he then suggests Hong Kong should admit all foreigners as residents on an equal footing, recognising this would mean an absence of low-paid domestic helpers and resulting need for state-sponsored creche facilities so as to enable mothers to remain in the workforce.

As for household chores, he sees those as the task of the family members. Presumably, also the elderly - now frequently cared for by foreign domestic helpers - should instead be consigned to institutions.

So he would turn Hong Kong into a Western-style society where only the super-rich can afford/arrange domestic help and everyone pays far higher taxes partly to fund state services designed to cover the needs which are now met by our large maids population.

"The maids' low wages have been, in fact, an excuse for the government to make us pay for what should have been provided by the state" is a naive and misdirected sentence that is wrong on so many levels.

What the state provides is not free as ought to be understood by now.

Though relatively low, the wages - when one adds the value of such things as food and accommodation provided by most employers - are comparable to manual/unskilled labour rates here. And why should our children and elderly be placed in the hands of staff engaged at state facilities rather than cared for by employees we can select and supervise who live with us?

The other positive aspect of the domestic helper sector entirely overlooked by Lo is the economic benefit to the societies from which they come.

The maids simply would not be here, second-class citizens or not, were it possible for them to enjoy a happier life in their home countries.

Last, and worst, we have the suggestion that the maid situation shows Hong Kong is not fit for full democracy, which must be the most imaginative excuse yet from apologists for the one-party state.

Migrant labour is not human trafficking and, so long as its practice is properly regulated, there is benefit to the host and "exporter" communities and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Paul Carolan, Admiralty